…to my Curious Miscellany.
I’m Keith Kahn-Harris and I’m a sociologist and writer with a lot of different interests. As author or co-author of eight books, editor of several collections and of many articles and reviews, my career bridges academia and multiple other worlds. My writing has appeared in publications including The Guardian, Times Literary Supplement, New Humanist, Prospect, , New Statesman and more. My most recent books are The Babel Message: A Love Letter to Language (Icon) and What Does A Jew Look Like? (in collaboration with Rob Stothard).
You can find out more about me at my website. I can also be found on Twitter (for now anyway), Mastodon, Academia.edu, Linkedin and Medium.
First things first: This newsletter is free. I don't intend to charge for this other than in the unlikely event that I find myself in greatly reduced circumstances or the even unlikelier event that I build up a list of thousands of subscribers. Of course, this newsletter might lead to a few more sales of books I've written, but it's probably not going to lead to me becoming a best-selling author.
I have some serious reasons for starting this newsletter that you can read about below but the bottom line is that I intend A Curious Miscellany to be fun, silly, serious, profound, superficial - and always interesting. Will I achieve that? Well there is only one way of finding out…
Why a Curious Miscellany?
One reason I am doing this is because, while I am privileged to be a published author, I don't have carte blanche to write whatever I want, whenever I want, wherever I want. Even though I have more areas of expertise than is common, I often find myself obsessed with ideas that don't 'fit' any of the publications I write for or that would be almost impossible to convince a publisher to let me write a book on the subject.
It's not that these stray ideas are the detritus of my work, offcuts of something better or just ill-thought out. Much of the work I am proudest of - the most creative, original and playful - was either self-published or appeared in relatively niche publications: My Metal Beyond Metal series, the Impossible Books I 'published' in 2015, the Lockdown Miscellany I began in 2020.
I ended up suspending The Lockdown Miscellany as one of my contributions to it grew into my book The Babel Message. I still love the idea of a Miscellany though, and so I am returning to it once again.
This Miscellany will feature work that doesn't fit, work that pushes me in new directions, writing that floats tendentious ideas, experiments in the playful and silly. I will explore anything that sparks my curiosity: subcultures, small worlds, scenes, objects, art forms, phenomena; from the marginal to the major, from the tiny to the massive. Maybe something that appears here will be the seed of something bigger, maybe nothing here will lead anywhere. Whatever: this newsletter will feature me doing what I love most; being curious. And hopefully my curiosity will resonate with readers.
Yet while I will celebrate curiosity for curiosity's sake and the open-ended threads of the miscellaneous, at the same time I want to use this publication to develop a way of writing about the world that potentially has broader significance.
There is a tension between the geeky love of detail, facts and surfaces, and the desire and the need to identify wider and deeper trends that structure our world. In the discipline of sociology that provided my intellectual foundation, there is a longstanding debate about how to account for both the micro and the macro, the particular and the general, individual agency and social structure. Some sociologies attempt to 'reconcile' these polarities, in more or less convincing ways, others seem to fold one pole into the other or simply ignore the tension. To cut a very long and very complex story very short, I have come to the view that, more often than not, sociology doesn't provide a sufficiently joyful celebration of detail for its own sake. It just isn’t nerdy enough.
So what I want to do here in this newsletter is to find a way of geeking out without ignoring the inescapable fact that broader trends and social structures do exist and do matter. I want to acknowledge that things are connected without treating that discovery of those connections as the purpose of curiosity.
The same goes for my own work. I write and research about a lot of different subjects. There are connections between all my interests and I want to draw them together a bit more. But I don't want to imply that my work is a seamless whole.
I will have more to say about this in future newsletters. Rest assured though, I will wear this commitment to a serious agenda very lightly. I want this to be fun for me to write and fun for you to read!
I will also include updates on my other work too. I'm aware that people discover my writing from very different places and I want to encourage readers to engage with my work on subjects that may seem completely different to what you signed up for.
I'm still working out how often I want to publish the newsletter. It's likely to be no less than once a month and no more than once a week. Bi-weekly is probably ideal. We'll see how it goes.
If you want to give this a go, subscribe here:
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